Shuttle Astronauts Hope for Friday Landing After Delay

Shuttle Astronauts Hope for Friday Landing After Delay
Backdropped by a cloud-covered part of Earth, Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-128) is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 20 crew member on the International Space Station soon after the shuttle and station began their post-undocking relative separation on Sept. 8, 2009.
(Image: © NASA.)

The seven astronautsaboard space shuttle Discovery are hoping for a break in Florida?s stormy weatherso they can land Friday evening, but they may end up in California if conditionsstay grim.

Strong windsand rain kept Discovery fromlanding Thursday at NASA?s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and forced theastronauts to spend a bonus day in space. The shuttle?s first chance to returnhome today comes is at 5:48 p.m. EDT (2148 GMT) in Florida, though rain andhigh winds are expected again.

"It'sanother great day in space and we hope the weather works out and we can get toland the space shuttle Discovery today,? shuttle commander Rick Sturckowradioed Mission Control this morning.

Discoveryis returning to Earth to end a 14-day delivery mission to the InternationalSpace Station. The astronauts delivered a new crewmember to the station, aswell as tons of supplies and science gear for the outpost?s six-person crew.

NASA entryflight director Richard Jones said he will activate a backup runway at theEdwards Air Force Base in California for today?s landing attempts, givingDiscovery a total of four tries - two in Florida and two in California - toreturn home.

?We?ll kindof start slow and work our way in,? Mission Control radioed Sturckow on thelanding plan late Thursday. ?If both KSC opportunities are no go, we?ll plan on landing atEdwards.?

NASAprefers to land space shuttles in Florida when possible because it is theorbiter fleet?s home port. Florida landings also avoid the extra week of transporttime and $1.8 million in turnaround costs required to ferry shuttles home fromCalifornia for their next mission. Discovery is due to fly to thespace station again early next year to deliver more supplies.

Discoverylaunchedlate Aug. 28 and left the station with enough supplies to last throughFebruary. Among the major delivery items were an air-scrubbing device, a newastronaut bedroom, a pair of powerful science experiment racks and a treadmillnamed after TV comedian Stephen Colbert.

The treadmillwas named after the comedian host of Comedy Central?s ?The Colbert Report? as aconsolation prize after he won the naming rights to a new space station room inan online poll earlier this year. NASA opted to name the new room Tranquilityafter the Apollo 11 moon base, but rechristened the treadmill the CombinedOperational Load Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (COLBERT) forStephen Colbert. The exercise gear is in more than 100 pieces and will beassembled by station astronauts later this month.

Returningto Earth on Discovery with Sturckow will be pilot Kevin Ford and missionspecialists Danny Olivas, Jose Hernandez, Patrick Forrester, Tim Kopra andChrister Fuglesang - a Swedish astronaut representing the European SpaceAgency.

Kopra isreturning home after nearly two months aboard the station and is bringing home BuzzLightyear, a 12-inch Disney toy that has been in orbit for 15 months aspart of an educational program. A tickertape parade at Walt Disney World inFlorida awaits Lightyear upon his return to Earth.

?We arevery happy to be in space another day even though it would have been very niceto see the families in Florida,? Sturckow said late Thursday after the firstlanding delay. ?We look forward to great success.?

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SPACE.comis providing complete coverage of Discovery's STS-128 mission to theInternational Space Station with Managing Editor Tariq Malik and Staff WriterClara Moskowitz in New York. Clickhere for shuttle mission updates and a link to NASA TV. Live landing coverage begins at 2 p.m. EDT.

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